I started my volunteer work yesterday and I have to say that it’s given me a real wake-up call. I expected the conditions these people live in to be bad but I didn’t know just how awful the favelas (shantytowns) are. A taxi/minibus thing took me and the other volunteers to the area we were going to work in that day and when I stepped out all I could see were dilapidated houses with half their roofs missing, dusty streets and little kids running around with dirty clothes on. You could be fooled into thinking that Buenos Aires is almost as well off as your average “western” city when you walk around the city centre, but only 30 minutes away is a place where people live in real poverty. 🙁
The whole thing is even more difficult to comprehend when you see the happiness of the children, despite living in such atrocious conditions. As soon as I walked into the centre where we would be helping the children with their school work, I was swamped by little kids asking my name, grabbing my hands and hugging me.
I was overwhelmed by the kids’ eagerness to do some school work too; I couldn’t really understand what they were saying most of the time but I tried to help some of them with their maths. At one point a little girl was sitting on my knee doing a maths sheet while about three others were tugging my sleeve, saying “señora, señora…” These kids are probably deprived of attention even more than they are of sanitary living conditions. I noticed that while we were working, what looked like all the women from the entire street were cooking a meal in the back yard. I think that’s the way of life in the favela: the kids were running around and clambering over each other so it seems like everyone is used to living virtually on top of their neighbours here.
My first experience in the favela has made me feel very small. It’s made me realise that although I would absolutely love to live in a world where everyone has equally good living conditions, enough food and water, etc, one person isn’t going to make much difference. I don’t know if poverty will ever be eradicated but what I do know is that the world shouldn’t be in this state. Even if I can just make the kids smile or laugh during my work here, that will be satisfying enough for me.
On a happier note… my tango class was a fun experience! 😀 It wasn’t good enough to merit the huge number of pesos I paid for it, but never mind! The dance hall was gorgeous, with dim lighting and a lovely polished wood floor. My partner was a young Argentine called Emiliano, who was then kind enough to walk me halfway home afterwards. The machismo culture over here is quite nice actually – men are so much kinder to women over here than they are back home! My mum freaked out a bit when I told her this, but don’t worry, I’m a big girl now and I’m paying attention to my instincts. I’m not stupid enough to go along with something that doesn’t feel right. A big part of why I’m here is having the chance to meet people from different cultures and I’m really enjoying it, but rest assured that I’m being extremely careful! 🙂